Gin, Television, and Social Surplus

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Clay Shirky on typically brilliant form, here talking about cognitive surplus and what we do with it.

I love his rough calculation that the whole of Wikipedia, in all its language variants and including discussions, edits, lines of code and so on, amounts to around 100 million hours of thought. Coincidentally, that is the amount of time US viewers spend watching adverts on TV every weekend. That’s a lot of cognitive surplus just ripe for engaging in participative activities. He observes that the Internet-connected world spends around a trillion hours watching TV each year. If just one percent of that time shifted towards producing and sharing on the Internet, it would be equivalent to 100 Wikipedia-sized projects per year. And, of course, that is exactly what is happening, probably at a higher rate than that.

Let’s now imagine that one percent of that one percent could be turned to replacing our current processes of higher education. That’s one Wikipedia a year. Meanwhile the Internet continues to grow at a phenomenal rate, but still slightly less than a quarter of the world’s population have access to it. That’s a lot of growth potential – even a quarter of one percent would be a whole lot of brain power. We are just at the start of this revolution and have barely scratched the surface in terms of searching, filtering, connecting, aggregating and interacting with all of that content and all of those people. Assuming other things remain fairly equal and we don’t all vaporise or vanish down a hole of recession, it is hard to see how this cannot completely change higher education as we now know it.
Created:Mon, 23 Mar 2009 11:17:04 GMT

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology and teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems, of which I am the Chair. I am married, with two grown-up children, and live in beautiful Vancouver.

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